3 September 2009 | paul2001sw-1
Half a case
We're all familiar with economic shock therapy, the idea that sometimes a massive destabilisation of the economy is the first step towards recovery. What Naomi Klein argues in her book, 'The Shock Doctrine', is that chaos is not just an occasionally necessary precursor of reform, but it rather exploited or at worst engineered by reform's proponents, because the consequences of the changes proposed would not be accepted by the people if offered to them a la carte in a less pressured environment. Michael Winterbottom's film develops Klein's arguments, and presents a fairly conventional alternative history of the world. But there are still some interesting details: I didn't know that it was Eisenhower, of all people, who first warned about the military-industrial complex; and it's welcome to see a different interpretation of what happened in Chile in the 1970s to the outrageous story told by Niall Fergusson in his recent BBC series, 'A History of Money'. Yet I still felt slightly disappointed by this film, because while it exposes the lies of the new right to be friends of freedom and democracy (by showing how they need to suppress freedom to get their ideas through), it doesn't address the other part of the argument, namely, whether their economic ideas are basically sound. Perhaps it does indeed take unpopular policies to rescue broken economies; one can dispute that this belief justifies coercion, but should a rational people accept shock as a price worth paying? There are lots of good arguments that say no, but the film doesn't make them; the case that equality is an aid to the efficiency of a country, as well as a moral good in itself, is here taken for granted, although this is arguably the key point of difference between left and right. I fear that this film will not convert anyone while the right's most insidious claim, that a competitive jungle is, however distasteful, the best of all possible worlds, goes unchallenged.